At some point in our lives, we’ve all had that friend who has been the Pop Hater. You know the one: no matter what you put on, from Drake to Billie Eilish, they will turn up their nose and vehemently reject listening to anything they consider to be “pop.” You may be thinking, “I don’t have any friends like this, what are they talking about?” In this case, I envy your freedom. However, if you’re thinking “this is dumb, why would somebody defend pop?” I have some bad news for you, you are the pop hater. Growing up in the mid 2000s, I must admit that I, too, was a pop hater at one point. My middle school self would scowl if shown anything featuring Justin Beiber or Ke$ha. But after some reflection and exposure therapy, by the end of high school I had been shown the light.
To stop being a pop hater, it’s important to consider the reasons why one might be a pop hater in the first place. The first and foremost reason I can think of is out of a desire to be perceived as being “cool” through being “different.” The thought goes that if you like an album, song, or artist that is liked by many other people, then you’re simply another one of the masses, lacking in originality and failing to stand out.
Beyond the perceived optics, some cite any of the following qualms they have with pop music: the music is samey, vapid, harmonically boring. While it is true that you probably won’t hear a Neapolitan 6th or 12-tone row in every top 100 hit on the radio, that’s missing the point. Just as one doesn’t ask a goldfish to play fetch, comparing pop music to compositions by the likes of Beethoven or Mozart hints at a larger idea: the importance of enjoying something within its bounds. Judging pop by the values of classical and jazz music is asking it to be something it’s not and then being disappointed when it fails. Instead, like when approaching any form of art, it’s important to consider the context in which it was made and how well it does in that context. Focusing solely on harmony fails to recognize all the other ways a song can express an idea: rhythmically, vocally, lyrically, through production and varying instrumentation — all aspects for which pop is rich and diverse.
Art goes about expressing its meaning in different ways, but for some people, the message of pop music is the issue. It’s not uncommon to hear arguments like “all pop is about love, sex, and partying,” or that it’s insincere and lacking in emotional depth.
Yes, there are plenty of tunes about love, sex, and partying. However, even ignoring the fact that composers such as Verdi wrote about “the love among chalices,” these themes can be the means to express other, larger ideas.
Albums like Igor by Tyler the Creator, or Lemonade by Beyoncé tell tales not only about personal trauma but also paint a picture of the larger societal context they fit into. Lemonade depicts not only the pain felt from an unfaithful husband, but also the pain experienced within an unfaithful country. IGOR, by Tyler the Creator, is about the experience of dealing with queerness and also of being black.
Being pop doesn’t detract from a song’s musical excellence. Looking back in time, many songs that are now revered, such as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” were the pop hits of their time.
Hopefully by now I’ve been able to convince you a bit about why pop has value, but how do you go about bringing yourself to listen to it? First off, I would start by looking inside and asking yourself if you’re actually giving the song a chance. It’s hard to enjoy any piece of art if you’ve already decided in your head that it’s going to be bad. Next, bear through the first 30 seconds, even if you feel bored or uninterested. Having got through that, listen to the song and see what you notice about the music. What lyrics stand out? What caught you off guard? Did anything pique your interest? This will help you appreciate the music for what it is instead of comparing it to something it isn’t.
Finally, accept that it’s alright to listen to something popular and have fun! It doesn’t make you immature to let yourself be silly. Laugh at the fact Carly Rae Jepsen says “really” 67 times throughout “I Really Like You.” Enjoy the memes that come from “Shooting Stars.” Bask in the absurdity of “W.A.P.”
To miss out on pop is to miss out on an extremely wide and diverse pool of music, and the collection of experiences and emotions told through that music. So the next time you’re driving down the highway, turn on the radio and start letting your life improve.